24-09-2019 | Original Paper
The Role of Theory of Mind, Emotion Knowledge and Empathy in Preschoolers’ Disruptive Behavior
Gepubliceerd in: Journal of Child and Family Studies | Uitgave 1/2020Log in om toegang te krijgen
Research examining disruptive behaviors in clinical groups of preschool and school-aged children has consistently revealed significant difficulties in their emotion knowledge and empathy but intact performance in their theory-of-mind (ToM). However, it is largely not known if these difficulties in emotion knowledge and empathy as opposed to ToM are specific to extreme forms of disruption in clinical groups or rather represent broad deficiencies related to disruptive behaviors in general, including the milder levels exhibited by typically developing children. Milder disruptive behaviors (e.g., whining, arguing, rule-breaking and fighting) in peer contexts might relate to normative variations in socio-cognitive and emotional skills like ToM, emotion knowledge and empathy. To illuminate whether the same pattern of relations observed in clinical samples would arise in typical development, this study aims to examine the role of ToM, emotion knowledge and empathy in typically developing preschoolers’ disruptive behaviors.
We used individual tasks to measure 116 typically developing Turkish preschoolers’ ToM, emotion knowledge (understanding anger and sadness) and empathy for pain, and received mothers’ reports about children’s levels of disruptive behavior in peer contexts.
Path analysis showed that among these skills, it was only empathy which predicted disruptive behaviors significantly (β = −0.25, p< 0.05). Understanding sadness predicted higher empathy (β = 0.18, p< 0.05) and higher empathy predicted lower disruptive behaviors, but the mediation of empathy in the link between understanding sadness and disruptive behavior was not significant (β = −0.05, p> 0.05, 90% CI = −0.106, 0.001).
Overall, our results indicate that empathizing with others’ emotions is more important than understanding their mental states and emotions for lower disruptive behaviors.